Fact or Fiction? Will Heavy Squats Make Me Produce More Testosterone?

I always hear people talk about how doing squats will increase your body’s production of testosterone.  The gym is filled with so much “bro science” that it’s very difficult to pick real evidence apart from something that someone dreamed up at some point.  So…

Will heavy weight training with exercises that stress multiple, large muscle groups like squats make me produce more Testosterone?

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, why yes it will.  Here’s the basic endocrinology.

Hormones are produced by endocrine glands in the body.  Once produced they work by floating around in your blood and eventually make it into a muscle cell in order to bind to a specific receptor for that hormone.  This binding signals the cell’s DNA.  In the case of anabolic hormones like testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factors the signal is to enhance the development of muscle protein contractile units (aka build some muscle!).

Stress from heavy resistance exercise increases anabolic hormone levels after exercise .  The amount of hormone released is going to vary based on:

  • The amount of muscle tissue stimulated
  • The amount of muscle tissue repair needed after exercise
  • Volume of work done in a training session
  • Amount of rest taken between sets
  • Training Age (How long you’ve been training for)

So what do we have to do to increase our body’s production of anabolic hormones?

  • Utilize large muscle group exercises (Deadlift, Cleans, Squats)
  • Heavy Resistance (85-95% of 1 rep max)
  • Moderate to High Volume of Exercises
  • Multiple sets and multiple exercises per session
  • Short Rest Intervals (30-60 seconds).  Longer rest periods will have similar effects but not as pronounced.

*Side Note: Training age refers to the research supporting that the only people getting these benefits were those who have been training already for 2 or more years.

Increased production of testosterone also promotes growth hormone response.  Testosterone and growth hormone also positively influence the production of insulin-like growth factor.  So as you can see weight training can cause a cascade of anabolic hormone release.

Increased anabolic hormone release is not the only benefit from heavy resistance training.  Resistance training increases blood flow to the muscle which in turn brings more anabolic hormones to their receptors in the muscle.  Heavy resistance training also increases the muscle cell’s ability to uptake nutrients (eg: Glucose via Glut-4 receptors), increases the cell receptor’s sensitivity to anabolic hormones (Less testosterone will cause a greater effect on the muscle) and over time an increase in the number of hormone receptors in the muscle cell (More receptors will form inside of the cell for these hormones to bind to).

Interestingly, insulin-like growth factor doesn’t seem to change much after training but does increase with carbs and protein immediately after training (So get your post-workout nutrition in gear too).

As you can see, heavy resistance exercise will really get your test levels up for about 30-60 minutes following heavy weight training exercise!  Keep in mind that you need to be doing exercises that really stress a lot of muscle mass at once.  For example, bench press elicited no hormonal changes whereas deadlifts did.  Fun stuff huh?

Deadlifts for days,

Dan Pope

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